Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adrien Brody, Chandler DuPont, Glenn Fleshler, Richie Merritt, Michelle Wilson, John Bianco, Dinora Walcott, Victory Brinker, Gerard Cordero, Alex Corrado, David Fierro, Frankie Montero, Jade Scott Yorker, RZA, Mykelti Williamson
Written by: Adrien Brody, Paul Solet
Directed by: Paul Solet
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 94
Date: 01/28/2022

Clean (2022)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Slight Trash

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Star Adrien Brody delivers a touching, deeply committed performance in a grim, wintry, urban movie that's strong on atmosphere, but whose story, disappointingly, is stuck in an all too familiar rut.

A sanitation worker named Clean (Brody) works late at night in the freezing cold, collecting the city's garbage. He goes home, cooks two meals, and gives one to young Dianda (Chandler DuPont). Dianda lives with her grandmother, Ethel (Michelle Wilson), and is frequently without food. Clean attends meetings for a past addiction, and does good deeds, like painting dilapidated old buildings or fixing old broken items, to atone for some tragic sin.

Unfortunately, he finds himself crossing paths with Michael (Glenn Fleshler) a dangerous crime lord and drug dealer. Things get worse when Dianda goes to a party with Michael's son Mikey (Richie Merritt); he and his friends drug her and attempt to abuse her. But Clean crashes the party and, using some long-buried fighting skills, dispatches everyone there. Mikey receives grave injuries, prompting Michael to vow revenge. Clean realizes he must protect Dianda and her grandmother, and knows that running will not be enough.

Brody, who also co-produced and co-wrote, as well as providing the throbbing beats and background music, goes deep for this one, finding wells of suffering and compassion that's hard not to get behind. Even though he plays a loner in Clean, Brody is a team player, showing an impressive generosity while sharing the screen with his fellow performers; he allows them all to shine as well, especially young Chandler DuPont, but also including Mykelti Williamson and RZA in small roles as Clean's sponsor, and a pawn shop proprietor.

Yet it's all used up on a copy of a copy of so many recent action movies, with a typical, sadistic villain — who chooses to leave his son disfigured to teach him a lesson — and a main character with hidden, superhuman fighting abilities. Part of the problem is that when Clean jumps into the fray, he does it with such grim lifelessness, as if it's all just unavoidable, or inevitable.

It's all doom and gloom and has no thrill to it, no B movie energy. Even the violence is just gruesomely over-the-top, and, worse, it cheapens the movie's attempts to build themes of dehumanization in a garbage-ridden city. It's a shame to consider that Clean was clearly something dear to Brody's heart, and it's sad to see it almost work, and then teeter right into the trash bin.

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